Teasha retreated to the back porch. She just needed a moment to herself. Her timid, over emotional twin brother was engaged. He was a few short months from becoming parents of twin daughters of his own and getting married. She should be happy for him. She wiped at an annoying tear that rolled down her cheek.
“Sweetie” Bruce’s voice called to her from the open door leading into the kitchen. “What are you doing here by yourself?”
“I needed some fresh air” she sniffed hurriedly drying the wetness from her cheeks.
“It’s difficult isn’t it?” he said quietly coming up beside her “watching your brother be so in love and happy.”
Her face crumpled, bottom lip quivering “it’s not fair” she cried as she felt him pull her close “all my friends are engaged. I can’t get away from it. I want to be happy for them but I can’t.”
“It’s going to be alright” he rubbed her back in slow rhythmic circles “your day will come.”
“When?” she demanded her voice muffled from her face being buried in his chest.
“When the time is right” Bruce sighed “I wish I could tell you when sweetheart. I simply don’t know. It could be tomorrow. Next year. Ten years from now.”
“That’s not helping” she laughed a little despite herself “would it be alright if I leave tomorrow for school?”
Pulling her close he placed a soft kiss on her forehead “if that’s what you think you need to do than yes. I wish you’d stay but I’m just your old man. What do I know?”
“Daddy I love you” she leaned in close placing a kiss on his stubbly cheek.
“I love you to sweetheart” he squeezed her tight “I know how it feels to have your world crumble beneath your feet. If you need someone to talk to I’m your guy.”
She gave him a curious look “didn’t you and Dad just fall hopelessly and madly in love from the moment you met?”
“I wish that were true” his eyes took on a far away look “when I met your dad I was the rebound guy. I was madly in love with him trying desperately not to show it.”
“Were you afraid he’d break our heart or something?” she asked as she toyed with her shirt.
“I guess in a way I was. He had been hurt by someone who hadn’t realized how much Ramsey cared about him. I was convenient. It didn’t work out.” He tweaked her nose playfully “sometimes magic happens the second time around.”
“Thank you daddy” she hugged him tight before leaving to go inside.
Bruce followed her inside, watching as she congratulated her brother and Waylon then moved to her dad. Ramsey gave him a startled look when she released him from the fierce grip she had around his neck.
“What have you been telling our daughter?” Ramsey asked a moment later coming along his side.
“Nothing much” he shrugged “just that sometimes happy endings sometimes required second chances.”
Ramsey snorted “she told me I better appreciate the second chance I had been given.” He pulled his husband close whispering softly in his ear “and I do.” He peered deeply into Bruce’s light blue eyes. The same blue eyes the majority of their five children had “I love you more and more with each passing day.”
Bruce gave him an impish grin “I love you more.” His eyes twinkled daring him to reply in kind.
Instead Ramsey pulled him closer, pressing his lips hard over his. Bruce’s lips yielded to his, their desire building as their bodies pressed hard against each others and their kiss deepened. “Let’s take this upstairs” Ramsey panted breaking the kiss. Without a word Bruce slipped his hand into his husbands following him the stairs.
Teasha stared up at the dorm. It wasn’t going to be the same this year. All of her friends had coupled up. Her brother wouldn’t be here at all. She gave herself a little mental shake as a wave loneliness swamped her. She refused to believe she was petty enough to be jealous of someone else’s happiness. She couldn’t help but feel left out and left behind by everyone else.
She rubbed her hands up and down her arms. Shivering despite the warm breeze. She took a hesitant step forward when someone called her name. Stopping she looked around for the source. Frowning when she found who it was calling her name.
Her heart rose into her throat threatening to choke her. Indecision kept her rooted to the sidewalk while her thoughts raced through her head. Could she pretend not to have heard and hurry inside? With a sigh she turned with leaden feet to greet the individual calling her name. She hoped they weren’t in the same dorm. If they were all hopes of being able to avoid them would be gone. Swallowing she cleared her throat “hi Phoenix.” In vain she tried to keep her voice carefully neutral, devoid of all emotion.
Dispassionately she watched him maneuver his wheelchair along the sidewalk coming towards her.
He stopped a few feet from her. “I uh” he licked his dry lips as if he were nervous “I wanted to apologize for the way I acted when you came to see me at the hospital.”
She looked down at him anger flashing in her eyes. “Ok” she said expectantly.
“Ok what?” he asked confused.
“Ok you can apologize” she crossed her arms waiting.
“Didn’t I just do that?” his brows knitted together.
“No” she shook her head “you said you wanted to apologize.” She tapped her foot on the sidewalk “so apologize.”
“You’re not going to make this easy are you?” he mumbled watching her intently.
“Should I?” she demanded “you told me to leave. That you didn’t want to see me. You made me feel like I was nothing.” A stray tear betrayed her forced facade of impassiveness.
“I’m sorry” he cried reaching his hands out to her “from the bottom of my heart I’m sorry.” He looked relieved and a little stunned when she took his hands instead of letting them dangle in mid-air.
“All I could think about was seeing you again” she blinked trying to hold back the tears she felt building behind her eyes. “I waited for weeks for any news of how you were. I wanted to be by your side the moment they found you.”
“Only to have me reject you” his voice full of regret “I am sorry.” He squeezed her hands tugging on them pulling her closer. “When I saw you. I thought I was dreaming. I realized then what an idiot i was for breaking up with you.”
“Why did you?” she asked “I would have waited for you. I would have supported you. Gone anywhere with you. Why did you not give me the chance to show you I would? Why did you let you mom and brother convince you otherwise?”
“I was afraid” he looked shocked at his admission “I didn’t want you to turn into my mother, old and bitter before your time.”
“I’m not your mother” she told him kneeling in front of his chair “I know what it means to be the one waiting at home safe and sound while someone you love is in life and death situations. I’ve watched my parents do it each time Dad was called out on an emergency. The weeks he would be gone fighting wild fires. I watched daddy pace the floor worrying about him. Not once did I ever hear him complain about the time they were apart. Daddy always made sure when Dad was home he knew he was loved and missed.” Taking her hands she caressed his face “I could have been that for you. I wanted to be that for you.”
It was his turn to blink back tears. “I’m sorry I didn’t give you the chance. I thought I everyone would be like what I remembered my mom being like when I was growing up. I didn’t want that for you.” He glanced down at hands in his lap “you deserve so much more than I could ever offer you.”
“Who said I wanted more than you could offer?” she asked softly brushing his tears away.
He shrugged “I did. I should have talked things out with you.” His face crumpled in sadness “now it’s too late.”
“You’re doing it again” she stood up her voice angry.
“Doing what?” he asked watching her.
“Assuming things” she crossed her arms glaring down at him.
“Look at me” he cried waving a self-deprecating hand at his legs “I’m in a wheelchair. I can’t walk. I can’t ask anyone to take on that burden.”
“You know what? You are an idiot” she whirled around and walked into the dorm without a second look back.
Over the next few weeks she observed how others treated Phoenix in the course of the day. A few were cruel enough to purposefully do things to make it impossible for him to do things on his own without asking for help like moving things just far enough out of reach. Others would pretend he wasn’t there. Ignoring him every chance they had.
The worst, in her opinion, were the one who did things for him out of pity. It infuriated her to see them congratulating themselves on doing a good deed for someone less fortunate than them. He didn’t need pity. He needed friends. Someone who cared for him. Who would do things because they wanted to not because it made them look good.
There was a one girl who was a little to friendly, maybe even a flirtatious. It made Teasha’s skin crawl whenever she saw the girl slinking around the dorm. One evening Vincent looked up from the table where they were studying. He nodded towards the girl he whispered to Teasha “he should be careful.”
“What?” she asked blinking looking around “why?”
“That’s one of the girls who stole my wallet last semester after they got me drunk” Vincent explained.
“Are you sure?” she asked watching the girl “I thought you said they were blonde.”
“She was blonde” he shrugged “nothing says she couldn’t have changed her hair color.”
Nodding Teasha stood up no longer listening. Walking over to Phoenix she asked “are you still looking for a tutor?”
Dragging his eyes from the pretty brunette Phoenix nodded smiling up at Teasha. “Yes I still need one.”
“Good” she smiled over at the girl “I’m available anytime you are.”
His mouth dropped open “you” he stammered “you want to be my tutor?”
“Sure why not?” she shrugged “I don’t have anything else to do.”
“Nixie” the girl whined ” why didn’t you tell me you needed a tutor? I would have been glad to help you.” She moved to sit seductively in his lap. Her hands slipping behind him.
Leaning over so that she was sure the girl would be able to hear her. “Take his wallet and I’ll break your arm” Teasha held the girls gaze until she wriggled off of Phoenix’s lap.
“I never” she cried in a huff and stomped off her heels beating a hasty retreat.
“Feeling for his wallet Phoenix looked up at Teasha “how did you know?”
“She got a good friend of mine drunk last semester and stole his wallet” she shrugged as if to say it wasn’t anything. “It was just a guess she hadn’t changed her ways.”
“Thank you” he murmured preparing to leave.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“I thought…” he glanced up at her with a sheepish grin “nowhere I guess.”
“Good because I was serious about accepting the tutoring position.” She sat down in a nearby chair. “So what do you need the most help in?”
Over the next few weeks Teasha grew to look forward to the times she could spend with Phoenix. At first it was focused on studying eventually as they both relaxed they learned to enjoy their time together. Closing her book she looked over at him. “Would you like to go for a walk?”
“Yeah I’d like that” he gave her one of his rare sweet smiles.
“I’ll even let you carry my books” she laughed handing him her book bag.
Balancing it on his lap he mumbled “I can’t hold all of this and operate my chair.”
“Tonight I’m driving” she giggled getting behind him and pushing.
“I demand you take a breathalyzer test” he grumbled “you’re driving like a drunk.”
“Am not” she protested laughing as she zigzagged across the sidewalk “I’m just not good at direction.”
“Where are we going?” he asked deciding to just let her do her thing.
“The park” she grunted trying to push his chair over a curb “this isn’t as easy as it looks.”
“How do you think I got these impressive guns?” he flexed his arms showing off his muscles.
“When we go back to the car” she panted “you can give me a ride. We’ll see how impressive those guns are then.”
“Prepare yourself to be amazed” he laughed.
“She came to a stop inside the small park. She looked around for a free bench before resigning herself to sitting on the ground.
“Not there” he grabbed her hand “there’s plenty of room right here.”
Putting the book bags on the back of the wheelchair she glanced into his eyes. “Are you sure?” she asked.
“Yeah I’m sure” he grabbed her wrist pulling her to him.
Giggling she halfheartedly struggled to get away. His face was mere inches from hers. His warm breath blew across her skin sending shivers down her spine. She stared into his eyes as he brought his mouth to hers. His lips brushed across hers in a light feathery kiss.
Pulling back his eyes showing shock as he mumbled “sorry.”
“Do it again” she requested putting her arms around his neck.
He gave her a small sweet smile before tentatively meeting her lips in a kiss that grew more passionate making their hearts hammer against their chests. Pulling away “I wish…I…”
“I love you” she smiled at him “I’ve loved you for months. I wanted to pretend that I didn’t. The more I pretended I didn’t have feelings for you the more mixed up I felt. I don’t want to pretend anymore. I love you.”
He gazed into her eyes “what about my handicap?”
Tapping his forehead she gave him a gentle smile. “The only handicap is the one inside your own mind. The wheelchair isn’t who you are. It certainly isn’t the reason I love you. I love you for you. Always have. Always will. With or without the wheels.”
Resting his forehead on hers he breathed deeply “you’re amazing. A gift I don’t deserve.” He gazed into her crystal blue eyes “how did I get so lucky?”
“Don’t question it. That’s how we got in trouble the first time” she kissed his nose ” just accept the second chance we have and we might get our happy ending.”